WFIU classical music host George Walker will retire on July 29, just four days after his 45th anniversary at the station.
Walker decided to retire after being diagnosed with progressive frontotemporal dementia, which impacts his speaking ability.
Walker came to IU in 1966 to pursue a masters degree in teaching English. During his first year, someone visited one of his classes to inform them that WFIU was hiring news announcers. Walker auditioned, and wound up as a part-time classical music announcer.
At the time, Walker didn’t expect to spend the next 45 years at WFIU in a full time position, according to WFIU’s press release. Walker’s position eventually expanded to covering the arts throughout south central Indiana, including stage productions, concerts and interviewing performers.
During his distinguished career, Walker interviewed several creative talents including Yo-Yo Ma, Maya Angelou, Bill T. Jones, Twyla Tharp, Buckminster Fuller, Yefim Bronfma and the Canadian Brass. In the press release, Walker noted he’s glad to have known musician Dave Baker, violinist Josef Gingold and pianist Menahem Pressler.
WFIU station operations director John Bailey said Walker’s tenure is a testament to his professionalism, consistency, optimism and steady hand at WFIU. For Bailey, Walker’s presence has been a staple at the station.
“Years of daily work is a real feat,” Bailey said. “It's not something that just anybody is built for. You know, not everyone is cut out to show up and just quietly do a good job every day like this for 45 years.”
Because Walker stayed with WFIU through years of changes, Bailey said Walker’s institutional knowledge is invaluable. WFIU predated the National Public Radio Network by 20 years. Bailey said Walker’s experience has been an incredible aid to his colleagues at the station.
Walker’s attitude – his ability to be present with those he interviewed – is what makes him such a talented radio host, Bailey said.
“He didn't shine a bright light on himself,” Bailey said. “He was sharing his passion for music, and for theater and for the arts. Letting the guests in interviews, letting the performers of the music he was playing shine their own lights the brightest.”
WFIU marketing director Laura Baich said Walker’s warmth shone through in his arts reviews, which were incredibly fair and kind. She said he always tried to find the good in whatever stage production or performance he covered.
Baich said she fondly remembers listening to Walker’s weather reports in the early 2000s during bad storms.
“In the days before smartphones, anytime there was bad weather, I would turn on WFIU because it was the local radio station and I knew there would be a report,” Baich said. “George was like my companion during bad storms. It used to be like he was my calming soothing voice, telling me ‘Okay, it's time to take shelter now.’”
For Baich, Walker’s decision to be so open with his colleagues and listeners about his diagnosis was courageous. She said his long tenure is proof of his dedication.
“I don't know if people stick around very long anymore in jobs like George did,” Baich said. “There's something to say for perseverance. There's a lot of opportunities within a place to grow and change. And I think he did.”